Sarah looked at the unkempt ‘hearth’ and wished she could drug them all tonight and be done with it. But, she thought, it would be at least five days until everyone was in place. She sighed and began to struggle with the deer and spit to get it away from the fire. Then she examined the pot and found it filthy. So she struggled to bring it to the nearby stream for a good scrubbing. By the time she got it back and filled it, she was tired. The most annoying thing was that the men, who were lazing about, just watched her. She was certain that even Scout Sergeant Eagle, who hadn’t seemed to have liked her at all, would have helped her.
Now that the pot was over the fire and the water heating, Sarah went inside the tent. It seemed to be a store room of sorts. There was a table on one side, its surface piled with dirty knives. Sarah made another trip to the stream, this time bringing back a small pot of water and some sand. Now she could look into the bins that littered the place. One held grain that looked like rice. So Sarah threw some of that into the heating pot. Then she started carving up the deer.
As suspected it was very unevenly cooked. Sarah pulled another pot out of the tent, which she had to clean. Then she began to divvy up the deer. The most cooked pieces went into the small pot. The rest she put into the large pot. Then she realized that she was running out of herbs. Damn, she’d be lucky if dinner was ready by nightfall. Sarah added what she could before heading out to pick more.
At last, Sarah was satisfied with how the stew was shaping up. She found some flour to thicken the broth and banked the fire to keep it warm. No sooner had she done that then the men began to line up with their bowls. Sarah did a quick search in the tent and came up with a reasonably clean ladle. She gave each one a large scoop, hoping she had enough.
‘When you’re done serving bring two bowls to the General in his tent,’ the skinny man told her as she ladled stew into his bowl.
Sarah stopped counting the number of men after 20. When the last one had left, she saw that she had just enough stew for two bowls. Sarah walked to the center tent, carrying the two bowls. The guard outside lifted the flap to allow her to enter. She had to duck slightly and then suppress her surprise. The tent was completely furnished, including a partition to separate the sleeping quarters, which had a bed. Sarah set the first bowl down on the table where the General was pouring over maps.
‘Dinner is late,’ he snarled.
Sarah gave the other bowl to the boy sitting in the corner sulking. He turned his head as she approached, but not before Sarah saw the palm print that was still there.
‘I could use an assistant,’ she said turning around to leave.
‘I have no men to spare,’ the man said, not even looking up.
‘What about the boy?’ she asked, nodding back in his direction.
The General looked up at her and then looked at the boy. He looked back at Sarah. ‘I’ll think about it,’ he growled.
Sarah shrugged and left. She felt bad for the kid, who must have been the victim of the man’s yelling earlier. Sarah added some water to the little bit that was left of the stew and ate it along with some of the over cooked deer. It was tough. Sarah looked into her pouch wondering what she could do with the near jerky status of the deer, when she spotted the two vials. Use them like herbs, Jason had told her. O and amber for the antidote right. She began to pour the antidote into the small pot that contained the ‘deer jerky’. She had just enough to cover the meat. Figuring an overnight soak would be good Sarah covered the pot and set it aside.
Now she just needed to clean up after dinner. As Sarah was getting ready to haul the pot back to the stream the boy appeared. His hair was arranged over one eye concealing the bruise and he carried the empty bowls. He was followed by two burly men, who seemed to be taking delight in prodding him along.
‘General says he’s to help you and stay with you,’ one of the men said. The boy looked disdainful as he handed Sarah the bowls. Sarah took the bowls and placed them in the pot with all the others for washing.
‘Oh good, help,’ Sarah smiled at the boy. ‘What we need to do is bring this pot of dishes to the stream for a washing.’ The boy’s face went through a variety of emotions and Sarah could tell he wasn’t used to taking orders. She also noticed he was holding his right shoulder, so she positioned herself on the left side of the pot. ‘If you would kindly take the right side, I’ll take the left side.’ She smiled at him again, ‘For the two of us carrying it will make it easier.’ Sarah waited for a moment then shrugged. She started to haul the pot herself, amidst the snickers of the guards. She didn’t get far before the boy came to her aid.
When they got to the stream Sarah showed him how to wash the bowls. She tackled the pot, noticing, as she worked, that he favored his right arm. She also noticed that the two guards had followed them. Once back at the cook’s tent the men stationed themselves outside, as if they meant to stay the night.